When my family came here in 1993, we became neighbors of Rav Ovadyah for a brief time. As an 11 year old American Jew, I knew nothing of Rav Ovadyah – of his encyclopedaic Torah erudition, of his social revolution or emotional hold on hundreds of thousands of Jews. All I knew was that the man who lived downstairs was a political force – so powerful that then Prime Minister Rabin z”l visited our apartment building once to confer with him. Still, I do remember two things about Rav Ovadya that stuck with me to this day.
The first was his uniform. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Though it first seemed at least a little silly to me, almost like a dress, I eventually came to regard it with awe. It felt almost royal, a uniform bespeaking an outstanding presence that outshone all else. Compared to the business suits I was used to see Rabbis wearing, *this* was something that I thought a great Rabbi should wear. My opinion of him changed.
The second was the blessing I and my brother received from him when we delivered some Rosh Hashanah flowers sent him. I thought it was very nice of someone of that stature to give a blessing to neighbors who were nowhere near his stature. This made me feel like Rav Ovadya was not just a persona, but a person, someone who can be approached. These impressions are still with me.
Commentators from all corners of the country will pontificate on the meaning of Rav Ovadyah’s life and death, no doubt with a focus on the fate of Shas without its leader. Torah students will debate Rav Ovadyah’s contribution to Torah scholarship. As for me, I will always remember the man who brought pride to the Torah – especially Sefardi and Mizrahi Torah – and brought it the royal, but approachable image it richly deserves.
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